How Cops Can talk to their Kids About Drugs

My dad was a cop who did 30 years with a neighboring agency. I remember he told me one day, “Cops’ kids become cops, or they become criminals.”

That stuck with me for a long time. It’s not totally true. I became a cop, not a criminal. I’ve seen a lot of cops’ kids serve in the military, work in business, and some even became firefighters (we tried to intervene, but were unsuccessful).

But I did see a lot of kids who had a parent (or parents) who was a cop that went on to become a criminal.

A Cop’s Kid Isn’t Immune to the Lure of Drugs

After 25 years as a cop, I have seen too many of my coworkers’ kids become addicted to drugs. I’ve seen some of my friends’ kids become addicted to methamphetamine, prescription opiates, and heroin. My department even lost a former cadet (the nephew of one of our cops) to an overdose of Oxycodone.

As a Drug Recognition Expert and a former narc, I often ran into fellow cops’ kids who were under the influence of drugs. Some of these kids were very close to me. I tried to talk to their parents about what I saw and was immediately shut down.

I’ve heard it all:

  • “You think everyone does drugs”
  • “My kid isn’t doing drugs. You’re wrong”
  • “Stop harassing my kid”

I’ve been a cop long enough to see these same kids spiral out of control in their addiction and cause their family to implode from it.

I’m not bitter about being shut down by my friends — it’s hard to accept your kids are using drugs. I don’t take it personally and never will. We’re no different than society as a whole. It is hard to believe that your kid is doing something that you are out fighting every day in your job.

I’m also a parent. I have one adult son and another teenager at home. I hope I’m successful and they never use drugs. I’ve done everything possible to arm myself with the knowledge required to keep my kids away from drugs. So what are some of the things you can do to keep your kids away from them?

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Talk, and Keep Talking

Don’t be afraid to talk to your kid about drugs. It’s hard to find the time when you are working nights, weekends and holidays. It’s hard to talk to them when you have been dealing with other people’s issues all day. A friend told me when I started that family should always come first. That means you need to talk to your kids even when you don’t have the energy to do so.

I’ve been talking to my kids about drugs for as long as they could talk. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is no shortage of drug abusers walking around. I always made it a point to point out the drug users and use it as a springboard to talk about the issue. Here are a few strategies on how to approach the subject by age:

0-7 Years

At these ages, your kids are constantly getting vaccinations or getting sick. Talk to them about the difference between medicine and drugs. When the doctors give them something for that nasty cold or virus, let them know that they are only using the amount that the doctor prescribed and nothing more than that.

Talk to them about how other people take too much and it makes them unable to make sound decisions. Ask them what they think about it. When you see a drug user on the street, talk to them about what future that person has or what harm they are bringing to their body. If you are watching TV and someone is smoking or drinking excessively, tell them what the repercussions are. Ask them what they think.

My kids have a negative attitude about drugs because I’ve talked incessantly about how “icky” drugs are and only bad people use them.

8-12 Years

Your kids are fast approaching junior high school. This is where drugs will first pop up for them (although there are some drugs being reported in rare occasions at elementary schools). Continue engaging your kids in conversation about what they may hear about drugs and what they think about them.

When they hit 12, let them know that they may see drugs being used at their next school or hear that people are using them.

There will also be stories on the news about some pro athlete using steroids. Have them watch it with you and then talk to them about the harm that is occurring by using steroids for sports. Prepare them ahead of time!

13-17 Years

Your kids will definitely be exposed to drugs during this time period. They will either have witnessed drug use first hand or know friends that have or are using drugs. Your kids are still willing to talk to you at this age.

Ask them what they think about the kids using drugs. What are their futures? What harm are they bringing to themselves?

I live in a nice city. With that said, my daughters biggest complaint about her school is the smell of marijuana that permeates the restroom. Take time to talk about what their feelings are about it and reinforce to them the harm that is happening to the people using drugs.

Also take the time to talk to them about drinking and driving, using drugs and driving, and abuse of prescription medication. Let them know the dangers and the harm that will occur.

Let Them Know the Consequences

Around that 8-12 year mark and on, you need to let your kids know that there are consequences if they use drugs. I am obviously very strict on the drug issue. As an example; for a teenager, the punishment may be that you take their license from them for one year.

This is harsh, but if you don’t deal with it quick and surely, you will have greater problems. Most importantly, you need to follow through with whatever punishment you choose. If you cave and give in, you will only be enabling them.

Knowledge is Power

No family is immune from drug abuse. Know who your child’s friends are. If you drop them off at a friend’s house, get out and talk to the parents.

Monitor your kids’ relationships constantly. Those friends may later turn to drugs. Just because your kids’ friends were fine in elementary and/or middle school doesn’t mean they’ll be fine in high school.

Listen to what your kids say. Take time to listen and let them know that you will listen to them in a non-judgmental way. Act out scenarios with them that you think they might run into. Just like we act out in the academy to prepare us for the streets, we must do the same for our kids.

Author: Keith Graves
Keith is a retired Police Sergeant and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for 29 years. Keith was named as California’s Narcotics Officer of the Year and is a prior winner of MADD’s California Hero Award. He has years of experience as a Narcotics Detective and a Narcotics Unit Supervisor and is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292). Keith teaches both the DRE course and the Drug Abuse Recognition Course and has taught at the Police Academy. He has developed several drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association, California POST and California Colleges and currently consults POST on drug investigation procedures. Keith has held other assignments besides narcotics including Training Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and 20 years as a SWAT Team member and Sniper Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses around the world about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. He is recognized as an international drug expert and has testified as an expert in court proceedings on drug cases, homicide cases and rape prosecutions. Keith earned a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary's College of California and a MA in Criminal Justice. Keith is the Founder and President of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry.


  • Det. Travis Worley

    Sir, thank you for this article. I have a 13 and 15 year old boy and I can’t imagine one of them using drugs, but I realise it is a possibility. I am a Narcotic Det. And I see first hand the effects. Any other material you can share on this subject would be appreciated as I am a new instructor and will be looking for material in the future. Thank you again!
    Det. Worley

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